Heads get to the heart of new creative curriculum

20th August 2010 at 01:00
As Curriculum for Excellence kicks off officially this week, Douglas Blane asks secondary heads what difference it is making to teaching in S1

Elspeth Banks, Headteacher, Strathaven Academy, South Lanarkshire

If you looked at our timetable, you wouldn't notice many changes. They're all within it - changes in methodology within a class and across subjects. Interdisciplinary work is now significant in S1 and S2.

We decided not to wait until August. So teaching methodology has been changing and we have collaborative projects already embedded in S1, with others coming next year. Pupils are timetabled for separate subjects, but work on the same project in each.

We've not long finished a collaborative project between English and art and design. We've had a six-week bridge-building project between maths and technical.

Other cross-curricular collaborations planned for this year include social subjects, art and design and music, health and well-being with PE, home economics and PSE, and technical with ICT and modern languages.

We won't have timetabled slots for these, but we'll build in up to half a day to celebrate their completion, when the children will present their work to the whole year group. With the bridge-building, for instance, the groups went on stage and put weights on their bridges to see which was strongest. It was great fun but a lot of good work led up to it.

In S2 next year and S3 the following one, the timetable will start to look very different. We will offer core subjects and electives, as well as rotations through the year, with two or three subjects working together.

I'm not saying all planning is done for this year. The nature of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is that we are experimenting. We've tried different models over the past couple of years and may make further changes for this year.

Paul McLaughlin, Headteacher, St Ninian's High, Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire

The curriculum for this year is work in progress. In fact S1 might not look a lot different, even in the longer term. We certainly wouldn't plan to have Wednesday afternoon, say, as the slot for interdisciplinary learning.

We will have teachers working together on cross-curricular projects within the timetable. In addition, we'll continue to have whole days off timetable - in modern languages, food challenge, maths, etc.

These days have been a major success. They let us bring departments together, so they can see the relevance of one subject in relation to another. We will be looking for more such opportunities to suspend the timetable for a day. If you ask kids at the end of first year what they liked about it, it is those days that they always mention.

Beyond that, we're consulting with our staff on a model that will bring more opportunities for choice in S1 and S2. We're looking at bringing more electives into first year, such as the one we've already tried with Mandarin. We're also consulting on reducing the number of subjects and offering greater choice at the end of first year.

It will take teachers time to get used to the idea of shifting the focus from their subject to the whole pupil experience. Personalisation and choice are important but there has to be a balance. You can't give kids a free choice in S1, because some would drop English and maths. It would also be daft to give them the choice, say, of not doing science after first year.

So there is a challenge for schools. Certainly we want to give pupils personalisation and choice. But we also need to make sure they still get that breadth of education.

Ben Davis, Depute headteacher, St Joseph's Academy, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire

We are changing our S1 timetable. We'll have three periods a week of interdisciplinary learning and a fourth of personal learning planning - learning to learn, skills for life and work, target setting and discussing their learning.

We've devised eight interdisciplinary tasks for those three periods, four each in S1 and S2. They are general tasks rather than, say, the Olympics or a period in history. There is one called Feed the World. Each of eight working groups has created a 30-period experience from each of those initial stimuli.

The time must come from somewhere. So PSE has gone and we've reduced contact time in maths and English. But there is subject content - and a focus on literacy, numeracy and health and well-being - in all the tasks. There was debate about that, but staff have been supportive. They want it to work.

Each interdisciplinary group had a mix of promoted and unpromoted teachers, and we also tried to distribute across the groups people with experience of critical skills and the Tapestry Harvard programme.

In delivering topics, we've gone for as much team teaching as possible. So tasks will be delivered at the same time to every class. That means we can pair classes up to do drama in the hall, say.

There will always be an element of risk in any major change. But we're confident it will work. The experiences the groups have created for the children will raise the bar in terms of challenge, pace, choice and personalisation.

Of course if you give a teacher a lesson and say "Just teach this", they will always adapt it. That's where we are now. It's taking time but it's giving us an extra layer of creativity.

John Brown, Headteacher, Peebles High, Borders

I've visited all the primary schools to give parents an insight into what Curriculum for Excellence will look like at secondary - and to reassure them it's "evolution, not revolution". We've also had children from the primary coming up to experience the different pedagogies they'll meet here.

We will move towards a different structure in S2 and S3 with, for example, expressive arts timetabled, and art, music, drama and dance teachers working to deliver the experiences and outcomes - sometimes discretely, sometimes in an interdisciplinary way. There won't be great change in overall structure for S1.

On the other hand, how subjects are taught has changed. There is a Scottish Border initiative called Thinking Through Learning, which has had all teachers looking critically at how we teach every subject. That's been very successful because it has primary and secondary teachers working together and learning from each other.

As a school we are successful academically, and we also deliver a range of Skills for Work courses. Four or five years ago staff, parents and senior students looked at all our policies and updated them on the basis of Curriculum for Excellence married to Determined to Succeed.

We won the 2008-09 most enterprising school in Scotland award, based on activities that were called enterprise, but were in fact Curriculum for Excellence learning and teaching approaches - ways of developing skills as well as knowledge and understanding.

It has been a gradual progression for us. Instead of staying in silos, our teachers are getting together much more. So, much good practice existed already.

Graham Whyte, Headteacher, Kincorth Academy, Aberdeen

We're working more than ever with our primary colleagues, preparing kids to come into S1. So we've had a strong science link, with youngsters coming in to work with staff and build a bridge with their primary experiences.

We've had language activity bridging, with children bringing a piece of writing and working with our technology department on how best to present it. We put on a summer school, with health and sport and challenges for youngsters to tackle collaboratively.

In S1, pupils are coming with well-developed IT skills, so we don't need to teach those. Instead, we'll have one period a week on an entrepreneurship course, which is different from anything we've done before. The package includes critical skills and leadership training for technology and guidance teachers.

Other changes include putting PSE classes in blocks, so we can make more use of outside contributors and get pupils working across classes. We have the same aim - to give them an experience across subjects - with art, music and drama.

We will have four suspended days during the year, with our seven subject faculties - as well as guidance - working in pairs to deliver cross- curricular days on each of successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. So guidance and expressive arts will manage the day on confident individuals. Language and technology will lead the day on successful learners, and so on.

We will build Glow into the experience for all our S1s. In their link week language activity, for instance, we'll upload their finished articles to Glow. We are doing quite a lot, but there will be no big bang.

Ritchie Cunningham, Headteacher, Inverness High, Highland

Staffing cuts have left us with little room to make radical change in S1. But we have been piloting interdisciplinary projects for the junior school and we have more in planning. These involve typically two or three faculties working together.

The first was about salmon and food and involves science, home economics and English. It has a strong literacy theme and a range of activities, such as designing recipes and visiting a salmon processing factory. The second project is on fair trade and we have a third one on water, with a strong numeracy theme. So in maths they're looking at volumes; humanities are studying products and marketing; science and home economics are looking at the merits of water compared with soft drinks.

It's cross-faculty working and we've been planning it for two years, with staff who are committed to it. Our humanities department, for instance, includes geography, history, modern studies and RE, so there will also be little cross-curricular themes within a faculty.

We've developed a pro-forma, with all the pupil tasks and learning outcomes mapped out, so that all our cross-curricular projects follow the same specification. Typically a project will last six weeks and we'd aim to have four in S1 and four in S2.

We've invested a lot of staff time and energy in developing these projects and they have been well received by staff and pupils. We are taking things a step at a time. We put out our first CfE plan 18 months ago and reviewed it six months ago - and we will review what's appropriate for S2 to S3 in November.

We would like a little more clarification on the senior stage before we make those final decisions.

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